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A Message Hidden in Plain Sight

As I mentioned in my post on Message in a Bottle Day 2017, my dad opened this bottle he had found earlier in the year.

We were extremely nervous about this message because the paper is obviously very fragile. Also, other than a few wisps of faded ink, no helpful writing was visible.

Bob Buffington's ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle AloneDad's ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Close Up Horizontal Dad's ARC Gloria Message Close Up of Bottom of Bottle

But, as we have seen with other old messages in bottles (like this one about a “grumpy old man”), whatever faint writing remains often becomes clearer as the message dries out. So, we decided to go for it.

Thanks to my brother Evan’s brilliant idea to use a Dremel tool to cut the bottles open, we no longer have to smash them. Yay! Smashing a bottle like this would almost definitely destroy or damage the message–and we couldn’t afford to lose a single word. So, dad got to work with the Dremel, scoring the glass…

Bob Buffington cutting open ARC Gloria message in a bottle with dremel tool 2 Bob Buffington cutting open ARC Gloria message in a bottle with dremel tool 1

Finally, he cracked the bottle open:

Dad cracking open ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Bob Buffington cracking open ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle 2 Bob Buffington cracking open ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle 3 Bob Buffington cracking open ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle 4

Well, there wasn’t much to look at! A few letters appeared here and there, but we couldn’t really make sense of them.

Bob Buffington's ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Close Up 1But, as the paper dried, a few minute details began to emerge, mostly spotted by my nephew Jacob who was switching between using normal light and a UV black light to reveal as many hidden details as possible.Jacob examing ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle

You can see how drying and changes in lighting affect the appearance of this message.

Bob Buffington's ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Close Up 2 Bob Buffington's ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Close Up Bob Buffington's ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Close Up 3

Making Sense of a Faded Message

As the message dried (it was crisp, but getting steadily crispier), Jacob noticed the word “Colombia” and soon we also saw “Gloria” up in a corner. A name! Hurray! To the left of “Gloria” we saw “cuela” and realized the message must be in Spanish. Sadly, my Spanish-speaking wife, Kate, was not with us, so we turned to Google Translate, which told us that “cuela” meant “sneak”. Not terribly helpful. But then we noticed a “s” to the left of “cuela,” making it “scuela” which Google told us meant “squelch”. I do love the world “squelch,” don’t you? It’s one of those lovely words that sounds exactly like what it means. But it didn’t make a lot of sense in the context of a message in a bottle. When has any message in a bottle ever had anything to “squelch” about?

Well, our big break came when we finally made out an “E” before the “s,” making it “Escuela,” or “School”. That made sense, because school kids often send messages in bottles to learn about ocean currents. This message, however, turned out to be from–well, not exactly kids!

Message in a Bottle From ARC Gloria, Colombian Naval Training Ship

At the same time, we noticed that the letters we had thought were Greek actually made up an abbreviation: A.R.C. We put it all together and got “Escuela ARC Gloria,” which we immediately searched online and found THIS!

Colombian Naval training ship "ARS Gloria" with soldiers standing on yardarms

Colombian Naval training ship “ARC Gloria” in London’s river Thames, with soldiers standing on yardarms. Photo: Daily Mail / PA.

Colombian Naval training ship "ARS Gloria" sailing under London's famous Tower Bridge, with sailors standing on yardarms

Colombian Naval training ship “ARC Gloria” sailing under London’s famous Tower Bridge, with sailors standing on yardarms. Madness! Photo: Reuters / Daily Mail.

Isn’t that the most beautiful ship you’ve ever seen? It’s glorious! This is a training ship owned by the Colombian Navy. And, in case you are squinting at the photo, wondering…Yes, those are people standing in the rigging of the ship, balancing on the yardarms. The masts soar to 131 feet. So, yeah, I’d say those guys are pretty brave.

Tico Polo and Another Clue

We made out two final, hopefully important details. First, in the middle of the message, a word that looks to me like “Pulivar” or “Rulivar” or “Bulivar”. A search of common similar names suggests Bolivar, and when I mess with the contrast and whatnot, that second letter looks like it could be an “O”…

Pulivar / Rulivar / Bulivar / Bolivar word on ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle

The second clue is in the lower right hand corner: the words “Tico Polo” in quotation marks. We are hoping that this is a nickname or some sort of significant, recognizable phrase that will help us find the person who sent this bottle.

Tico Polo ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle

If you have friends in Colombia, please send this to them! That really is our only hope of finding the person behind this note. We cannot see a date on the paper, but believe the bottle to be from the late 1980s or sometime during the 1990s.

Let’s find Tico Polo! Or whoever sent this mensaje en una botella!

***If you liked this story, click here to find me on Facebook and like my page for more message in a bottle stories! You never know when YOU could be the one to solve a message in a bottle mystery, regardless of where you are from! Click here to learn more about messages in bottles, and you can always contact me with questions, ideas, or stories.

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